After less than a day of deliberation, a California jury has found the members of the legendary group Led Zeppelin (and their record label) did not copy the famous opening riff of Stairway to Heaven from an earlier song by the band Spirit. Applying basic copyright principles, the jury found that while Jimmy Page and Robert Plant may have heard Spirit’s song Taurus before composing the opening of Stairway, the songs were not “substantially similar.”
The verdict contrasts with another recent high-profile copyright infringement case in which a California jury found that Pharrell Williams, Robin Thicke and Clifford Harris infringed Marvin Gaye’s classic Got to Give it Up when writing Blurred Lines. The Blurred Lines jury rejected similar defense arguments that the songs were not “substantially similar.” (A previous blog on the Blurred Lines verdict can be found here.)
The two cases illustrate the fact-sensitive and often unpredictable nature of the “substantial similarity” test. What remains certain, however, is that successful artists will continue to be challenged on the provenance of their works, even long after those works first topped the charts.
As the law continues to evolve on these matters, please note that this article is current as of date and time of publication and may not reflect subsequent developments. The content and interpretation of the issues addressed herein is subject to change. Cole Schotz P.C. disclaims any and all liability with respect to actions taken or not taken based on any or all of the contents of this publication to the fullest extent permitted by law. This is for general informational purposes and does not constitute legal advice or create an attorney-client relationship. Do not act or refrain from acting upon the information contained in this publication without obtaining legal, financial and tax advice. For further information, please do not hesitate to reach out to your firm contact or to any of the attorneys listed in this publication.